When I enter college, I will be a rare specimen: a woman in the computer science field. I will most likely be one of seven women in my classes; however, that number will dwindle down as I progress into higher math and science classes. It is a daunting reality that intimidates young women, and often pushes them to leave their field of study for one that is “more inviting.” My journey has been far from linear or easy, but it is one that I enjoy laughing at when I look back and hope that it inspires other young women to stick to the beauty of STEM too.
Technology, for as long as I can remember, has been an integral part of my life. I was first exposed to the world of technology from my mother who worked as an IT manager for over twenty years. I remember sitting on her lap and watching her remotely access her work on her laptop. I was good at using technology but I never thought I could be good at being a part of creating it. When my mom would take me into the office I would be paraded through cubicles and cubicles of men dedicating their lives and eyes to their laptops. The content looked boring and dull, but even if it interested me, who was going to teach me about it?
I had little to no exposure to Computer Science, until the summer between my Junior and Senior year of High School when I attended Harvard’s Secondary Summer Program. On a complete whim I decided to take the “Intro to Java” course. I had no previous background, no general interest in CS, and no idea what Java was, but I took it simply because a teacher of mine suggested I try it.
I arrived at my first class, only to discover that I was in a lecture hall with 160 other students, varying in age and experience. It was intimidating to be surrounded by so many people who were so knowledgeable, but the feeling I got when I saw the number of students did not compare to the feeling I got when I noticed the number of FEMALE STUDENTS. I was one of very few women in that class, a fact that made me nearly quit before I started. The doubts are undeniably a barrier that I had to tear down,however, I did not do it alone and no woman should ever have to.
Though my doubts were consistent, I also had a strong support system of new friends and my family back home, that pushed me to keep trying. Their support drove me to spend hours learning more about programming, in order to catch up to my classmates. Halfway through the semester, I was astonished at how powerful I can be when I put my mind to something, and have strong women behind me that remind me that I deserve to be where I am.
My love for computer science stems largely from this college course that I took. I learned that programming requires the same logical and level headed approach that most everyday problems do. I learned how to program in a supportive environment with a multitude of platforms open to me, which helped me gain confidence and a passion for the field; however, many young women do not have those same opportunities. I was pushed to program by a teacher who knew how to teach me and how to guide me through the steps, but most students do not have that opportunity. Over 90% of the young women within just my school live in poverty, and therefore, do not have the means to educate themselves about different interests they may have. We need to come together to break down the barriers that keep women from entering STEM fields, and hold each other strong, because it is inevitable that we will enter a college classroom with 85% of the students being men. As women, we need to support each other and help each other reach the goals we set for ourselves. It is imperative that we come together to create a more diverse STEM world.
I have made it my personal goal, to contribute to closing the gender gap in not only STEM fields, but specifically in the coding industry. Girls are underrepresented in the coding industry, and so, it is now viewed as a male dominant field, when women were such an instrumental part of creating that field of study. I want to encourage young women today to be like the women who started the industry like Ada Lovelace, and Grace Hopper to the women who are leaders in the field today like Marissa Mayer, and Sheryl Sandberg. These role models are imperative to illustrate to young women that they can be leaders in STEM fields, and more importantly, they can learn how to program. But so many girls give up when trying to learn to code, and write it off because they never have the chance to learn about it. This is the kind of mindset that I want to reverse. Programming has helped me to gain patience, determination, and ultimately, a focus. This intellectual stimulation, along with my desire to discover more about the world and what I have to offer, has compelled me to pursue a career in computer science. However, what has kept me focused have been the communities of innovative, motivated women I speak to and work with everyday. I want every girl, in every corner of the world, to be given the chance to explore STEM, so that they can contribute all of their great ideas.So for the women out there who want to build, discover, and learn together, remember that you are not alone. I am cheering you on.